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Marketing to the Unmarketable!

Tom Webster

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Sep 1, 2017
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Hello Everyone,

My name is Tom Webster. I work for my family's small business in Pittsburgh, PA.

We recently have acquired new territory for new market segment with the company we represent: Prisons

Being that Corrections is my background, I really enjoy this market. The work is fulfilling and it pays well. However, we are finding it EXTREMELY difficult to advertise/market to institutions. We have tried everything from social media, cold calls, email blasts, trade shows, and good old fashioned snail mail. It turns snail mail has worked the best out of all of these mediums. The only problem is it's INCREDIBLY slow! At times our mail won't be received for several months.

Does anyone have any experience with marketing to the unmarketable? We are talking about clientele that barely uses the internet/email. Is there another abstract way to reach potential customers? I am missing something?!

Besides pigeon mail or a raven, (for you GOT fans out there) I feel as if we've tried EVERYTHING. Thanks in advance..

Tom
 

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We are talking about clientele that barely uses the internet/email.
Who, specifically, are you trying to reach? Prison administrators or politicians? Or both?
 

Bertram

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I had clients and buddies in corrections work.
Talk about soft-hearted. And clever. With a smattering of the extreme opposite.
IMO snail mail works when the person needs certainty in their universe and for their team.
Schedules are tight but subject to unpredictable, multilevel change in corrections and LEO.
So tangibles like printed material provide a sense of more control of time, place and interest to the customer and team, because it is portable and handy.
Moreover you've covered printing costs.
My adult literacy programs, in fiction and nonfiction, were read by 20-40 million prisoners in TX, CA and VA at one time, distributed through Jobcore.
 
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Tom Webster

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Sep 1, 2017
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Pittsburgh
So tangibles like printed material provide a sense of more control of time, place and interest to the customer and team, because it is portable and handy.
You're exactly right. I was shocked to find out that conventional mailers working better than the internet (at this point).

20-40 million inmates.. impressive!!
 
Last edited:

Boychamp

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Specifically we are trying to reach prison staff. Not so much politicians.
I'm still a little confused but if you're struggling with the normal avenues, have you guys tried thinking about where these people hangout, the things they buy, what they're interested in (as an aggregate whole) and reaching them through that? I have ZERO experience with this particular niche but for example, let's say they're interested in gun ranges - working with local gun ranges that are in close proximity to prisons to promote your business.

Furthermore, I might give Facebook Ads a shot (I know you mentioned social media but not sure if you tried this) - with the ability to target people based on job title, location, etc I would think you'd be able to find some people (almost everyone has a Facebook). IDK what your business is so i'm not 100% sure it'd work but yeah.
Hope this helps in some way :)
 

Bertram

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You're exactly right. I was shocked to find out that conventional mailers working better than the internet (at this point).

20-40 inmates.. impressive!!
(Too late to delete it now....yes, unexpected.)

Did you work inside the system or B2B?

It could be a matter of bad lighting as well BTW, making it hard to run through emails from a mobile phone anywhere and anytime.
 
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Bekit

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I feel like there are still too many unanswered questions for us to give you valuable feedback here.

If you are marketing to prison staff, are they each going to buy their own thing from you with their own money, or is there a single decision maker who has the power to roll this thing out site-wide?
  • Individuals: Stop by the front desk with enough donuts for everyone and include a stack of fliers. Or create individually wrapped cookies or candy bars that have the flier attached.
  • Decision maker: Get in front of this person in a way that gets their attention and shows them something they care about. Use creative means to make your point.

Is this something that addresses a felt need or a known pain point, or do you have to do a lot of education before people realize why it matters?
  • Felt need - awareness is already there. Send them your sales pitch for the thing again and again and again (done creatively and tastefully, with variations so it doesn't get boring). Repetition and familiarity will contribute to people feeling more comfortable with it.
  • Education needed - bombard them with an educational campaign first. Show them the need so that they realize why the solution matters.

Is this for a particular role within the prison staff, or for everyone? There are a lot of different kinds of people working in a prison, from nurses to parole officers to guards etc. Who are you targeting? Where else do they hang out?

Keep in mind who your audience is and what they care about. For instance - they are probably working 12-hour shifts, with a very unpredictable schedule that moves around all the time, unpredictable days off, unpredictable whether they'll be working day shift or night shift, unpredictable which unit they'll be assigned to, unpredictable what mood the inmates are going to be in that day, who's going to need to go to lockdown, who's going to start a fight, where they're going to find contraband, etc. The nature of their job is very stressful, so when they come home, they are fried and probably experiencing anxiety and/or burnout about going back to work. So how do you show up in front of a person like this and get a slice of their attention? Probably by using a comforting, soothing tone in your messaging and by giving them something that increases their security/stability/peace of mind.

I have no idea how your service fits into any of this, but thinking through these types of questions will probably get you closer to figuring out how to reach them.

They're not unmarketable. They're in unique circumstances, yes. But at the end of the day, they are human beings. And people behave like people. I wouldn't want to stare at a computer, either, if I was in a job like that.
 

Bertram

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I'm still a little confused but if you're struggling with the normal avenues, have you guys tried thinking about where these people hangout, the things they buy, what they're interested in (as an aggregate whole) and reaching them through that? I have ZERO experience with this particular niche but for example, let's say they're interested in gun ranges - working with local gun ranges that are in close proximity to prisons to promote your business.

Furthermore, I might give Facebook Ads a shot (I know you mentioned social media but not sure if you tried this) - with the ability to target people based on job title, location, etc I would think you'd be able to find some people (almost everyone has a Facebook). IDK what your business is so i'm not 100% sure it'd work but yeah.
Hope this helps in some way :)
Hire the inmate to sell to the staff.
complete genius
 
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Tom Webster

Contributor
Sep 1, 2017
18
25
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Pittsburgh
I'm still a little confused but if you're struggling with the normal avenues, have you guys tried thinking about where these people hangout, the things they buy, what they're interested in (as an aggregate whole) and reaching them through that? I have ZERO experience with this particular niche but for example, let's say they're interested in gun ranges - working with local gun ranges that are in close proximity to prisons to promote your business.

Furthermore, I might give Facebook Ads a shot (I know you mentioned social media but not sure if you tried this) - with the ability to target people based on job title, location, etc I would think you'd be able to find some people (almost everyone has a Facebook). IDK what your business is so i'm not 100% sure it'd work but yeah.
Hope this helps in some way :)
To clarify, we are trying to, for example reach every prison/jail Warden in the United States.

We have done some with Facebook. But not since we first started. So great idea thanks for sharing! Like you mentioned, you're able to be quite specific with these ads. I think I'll give that a go again.
 

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Tom Webster

Contributor
Sep 1, 2017
18
25
22
25
Pittsburgh
(Too late to delete it now....yes, unexpected.)

Did you work inside the system or B2B?

It could be a matter of bad lighting as well BTW, making it hard to run through emails from a mobile phone anywhere and anytime.
20-40 million* apologize for the typo

I did work in Corrections as a C/O. Now in selling to this market, it's B2C.
 
OP
OP
T

Tom Webster

Contributor
Sep 1, 2017
18
25
22
25
Pittsburgh
I feel like there are still too many unanswered questions for us to give you valuable feedback here.

If you are marketing to prison staff, are they each going to buy their own thing from you with their own money, or is there a single decision maker who has the power to roll this thing out site-wide?
  • Individuals: Stop by the front desk with enough donuts for everyone and include a stack of fliers. Or create individually wrapped cookies or candy bars that have the flier attached.
  • Decision maker: Get in front of this person in a way that gets their attention and shows them something they care about. Use creative means to make your point.

Is this something that addresses a felt need or a known pain point, or do you have to do a lot of education before people realize why it matters?
  • Felt need - awareness is already there. Send them your sales pitch for the thing again and again and again (done creatively and tastefully, with variations so it doesn't get boring). Repetition and familiarity will contribute to people feeling more comfortable with it.
  • Education needed - bombard them with an educational campaign first. Show them the need so that they realize why the solution matters.

Is this for a particular role within the prison staff, or for everyone? There are a lot of different kinds of people working in a prison, from nurses to parole officers to guards etc. Who are you targeting? Where else do they hang out?

Keep in mind who your audience is and what they care about. For instance - they are probably working 12-hour shifts, with a very unpredictable schedule that moves around all the time, unpredictable days off, unpredictable whether they'll be working day shift or night shift, unpredictable which unit they'll be assigned to, unpredictable what mood the inmates are going to be in that day, who's going to need to go to lockdown, who's going to start a fight, where they're going to find contraband, etc. The nature of their job is very stressful, so when they come home, they are fried and probably experiencing anxiety and/or burnout about going back to work. So how do you show up in front of a person like this and get a slice of their attention? Probably by using a comforting, soothing tone in your messaging and by giving them something that increases their security/stability/peace of mind.

I have no idea how your service fits into any of this, but thinking through these types of questions will probably get you closer to figuring out how to reach them.

They're not unmarketable. They're in unique circumstances, yes. But at the end of the day, they are human beings. And people behave like people. I wouldn't want to stare at a computer, either, if I was in a job like that.
Thank you for the feedback Bekit. So the product is equipment that allows inmates to work out safely. Each prison has a department for this. That person will make the purchasing decisions for that facility. Since they are tight knit jobs, when one prison purchases, others follow.

I would say it's a felt need. Working out in prison is pretty universal. It's only a matter of the prison staff seeing an advertisement for our equipment. If they see, chances are they'll make a purchase. Not much education needed as it's purposes are clear (allows inmates to exercise safely).

Like I mentioned before, snail mail has proved to work exponentially better than any other method. But there are pitfalls like the amount of time it takes to be received and cost (every prison and jail in the US receives a flyer).

As a company should we continue this process albeit slow? Maybe we should be patient, spend the money on what works, and trust the process of our products gaining recognition in the next 2-3 years?

And yes you're spot on with different personalities, stress in the prison system, and uncertainty. Maybe you have some experience in the field??
 

Bertram

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Oct 25, 2015
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To clarify, we are trying to, for example reach every prison/jail Warden in the United States.

We have done some with Facebook. But not since we first started. So great idea thanks for sharing! Like you mentioned, you're able to be quite specific with these ads. I think I'll give that a go again.
Cool idea.
It's a benefit to society. It benefits the justice system. It benefits the healthcare system.
I think you could make headway through govt. entities to offer the "system."

CDC Center for Disease Control -
Injury Prevention Program (some geared towards violence reduction)

DOJ - Department of Justice
Federal prisons
State correctional facilities ing

Health Agencies
Public Health and Safety
Public Safety

are good matches. They have state levels funds, training and education programs as well.
1. I would try to get the feds to fund a demonstration project . You best bet is justice bureaus, they oversee prison funding.
2. Also contact state level agencies first to offer an article for distribution in their bulletins, etc Written as a news story, interview 2 wardens about the problem your system has been proven to solve. Add projected cost savings.
3. Concurrently, ask people at state corrections bureaus under state departments of justice, as well as liaisons at federal DOJ, what other publications the wardens get. Put articles and ads there.

Corrections/LEO also falls under public safety and you could reach wardens by that route, through professional organizations and also commercial publications.

The state guys are not politicians, but your product could interest special interest groups.

The ground zero coordination of correctional systems is at the county level.

If this were my deal I would send the message through county corrections and state justice bureaus. That would systematically reach the the wardens.

Good luck as you go. It's an important need.
 
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Bekit

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Thank you for the feedback Bekit. So the product is equipment that allows inmates to work out safely. Each prison has a department for this. That person will make the purchasing decisions for that facility. Since they are tight knit jobs, when one prison purchases, others follow.

I would say it's a felt need. Working out in prison is pretty universal. It's only a matter of the prison staff seeing an advertisement for our equipment. If they see, chances are they'll make a purchase. Not much education needed as it's purposes are clear (allows inmates to exercise safely).

Like I mentioned before, snail mail has proved to work exponentially better than any other method. But there are pitfalls like the amount of time it takes to be received and cost (every prison and jail in the US receives a flyer).

As a company should we continue this process albeit slow? Maybe we should be patient, spend the money on what works, and trust the process of our products gaining recognition in the next 2-3 years?

And yes you're spot on with different personalities, stress in the prison system, and uncertainty. Maybe you have some experience in the field??
Thanks for the extra info. That helps. (I don't have much experience in the field, but a friend of mine just became a deputy in the local jail, and I'm just extrapolating from there that prison is likely very much the same. I'm also the founder of a volunteer organization that goes into the jail 3x/week to deliver classes to the inmates.)

OK so you have a multitude of strategies available to you. Here are just some assorted ideas off the top of my head.
  • Start with a small local area, such as the prisons in Pennsylvania first. Get proof of concept and a couple of before-and-after stories. Then roll it out across the country.
  • Take minivanman's suggestion and send a flier to every inmate (you can look up online who is in custody.) Have no doubt that if the inmates want this, they will pester the staff until they relent.
  • Send fliers to the day-to-day staff, not just the guy with the purchasing power. They're the ones who will be positively affected the most if the inmates in their unit have a productive and safe way to use their time, work off steam, and invest in themselves in a way that will contribute to a positive mindset.
  • When you mail directly to the purchasing agent, adjust your sales pitch to stress the fact that implementing this will help the staff and make their lives easier. This will reduce turnover, reduce expenses on mental health counseling, and increase productivity and engagement at work. Also stress why your product is safe and how you can ensure that the items won't be used to hurt people. (This seems impossible to me. How would you create workout equipment that someone can't use to harm others? Stress the details of how your products achieve the maximum safety.)
  • Look for the prison management equivalent of trade shows and training conferences where all these people get together. A cursory google search brought me to this page on Strategic Inmate Management and this list of forums for the corrections community. Show up where they are. Hang out where they hang out. Listen to them talk. Hear what they think their needs are when it comes to inmate fitness programs. Reflect their language back to them when you promote your stuff.
One more thing...I'm not sure what you mean by this:

As a company should we continue this process albeit slow? Maybe we should be patient, spend the money on what works, and trust the process of our products gaining recognition in the next 2-3 years?
What do you mean by "slow"?

The internet says that there are 1,719 state prisons and 102 federal prisons in the United States.

That's 1821 facilities total.

A first-class stamp is $0.55. Let's say that you can print the flier for $0.45, bringing your total cost per facility to $1.00.

You're out $1,821.00.

So for less than $2000, you can show up on the desk of every purchasing agent in every prison in the US by next week.

Just to give you some perspective, running facebook ads for a single chiropractic practice can swallow up that amount of money in one week - just to bring ONE client in the door.

So I'm not sure why it feels slow.

Now, maybe the sales cycle is slow. That's got to be slow, with the pace that things move with bureaucratic red tape. But that's going to be the case no matter what advertising channel you use to get in front of your customers.

Now, let's say that someone needs to see 6-10 repetitions of your message in order to know, like and trust you enough to place an order.

You could spend $12,000-$20,000 on mailers and trust that the return on investment will be there.

But you could very possibly stretch your money a lot farther if you spend your $2,000 to mail 10 times to the first 200 prisons only. Start with a small, localized set of prisons. Get them on board and start to see results. Let positive outcomes + word of mouth start to take over and work in your favor as you expand to the rest of the country.
 

Bertram

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Thanks for the extra info. That helps. (I don't have much experience in the field, but a friend of mine just became a deputy in the local jail, and I'm just extrapolating from there that prison is likely very much the same. I'm also the founder of a volunteer organization that goes into the jail 3x/week to deliver classes to the inmates.)

OK so you have a multitude of strategies available to you. Here are just some assorted ideas off the top of my head.
  • Start with a small local area, such as the prisons in Pennsylvania first. Get proof of concept and a couple of before-and-after stories. Then roll it out across the country.
  • Take minivanman's suggestion and send a flier to every inmate (you can look up online who is in custody.) Have no doubt that if the inmates want this, they will pester the staff until they relent.
  • Send fliers to the day-to-day staff, not just the guy with the purchasing power. They're the ones who will be positively affected the most if the inmates in their unit have a productive and safe way to use their time, work off steam, and invest in themselves in a way that will contribute to a positive mindset.
  • When you mail directly to the purchasing agent, adjust your sales pitch to stress the fact that implementing this will help the staff and make their lives easier. This will reduce turnover, reduce expenses on mental health counseling, and increase productivity and engagement at work. Also stress why your product is safe and how you can ensure that the items won't be used to hurt people. (This seems impossible to me. How would you create workout equipment that someone can't use to harm others? Stress the details of how your products achieve the maximum safety.)
  • Look for the prison management equivalent of trade shows and training conferences where all these people get together. A cursory google search brought me to this page on Strategic Inmate Management and this list of forums for the corrections community. Show up where they are. Hang out where they hang out. Listen to them talk. Hear what they think their needs are when it comes to inmate fitness programs. Reflect their language back to them when you promote your stuff.
One more thing...I'm not sure what you mean by this:



What do you mean by "slow"?

The internet says that there are 1,719 state prisons and 102 federal prisons in the United States.

That's 1821 facilities total.

A first-class stamp is $0.55. Let's say that you can print the flier for $0.45, bringing your total cost per facility to $1.00.

You're out $1,821.00.

So for less than $2000, you can show up on the desk of every purchasing agent in every prison in the US by next week.

Just to give you some perspective, running facebook ads for a single chiropractic practice can swallow up that amount of money in one week - just to bring ONE client in the door.

So I'm not sure why it feels slow.

Now, maybe the sales cycle is slow. That's got to be slow, with the pace that things move with bureaucratic red tape. But that's going to be the case no matter what advertising channel you use to get in front of your customers.

Now, let's say that someone needs to see 6-10 repetitions of your message in order to know, like and trust you enough to place an order.

You could spend $12,000-$20,000 on mailers and trust that the return on investment will be there.

But you could very possibly stretch your money a lot farther if you spend your $2,000 to mail 10 times to the first 200 prisons only. Start with a small, localized set of prisons. Get them on board and start to see results. Let positive outcomes + word of mouth start to take over and work in your favor as you expand to the rest of the country.
What about applying for SBIR funding?

Small Business Innovation Research.
 
Last edited:
OP
OP
T

Tom Webster

Contributor
Sep 1, 2017
18
25
22
25
Pittsburgh
Thanks for the extra info. That helps. (I don't have much experience in the field, but a friend of mine just became a deputy in the local jail, and I'm just extrapolating from there that prison is likely very much the same. I'm also the founder of a volunteer organization that goes into the jail 3x/week to deliver classes to the inmates.)

OK so you have a multitude of strategies available to you. Here are just some assorted ideas off the top of my head.
  • Start with a small local area, such as the prisons in Pennsylvania first. Get proof of concept and a couple of before-and-after stories. Then roll it out across the country.
  • Take minivanman's suggestion and send a flier to every inmate (you can look up online who is in custody.) Have no doubt that if the inmates want this, they will pester the staff until they relent.
  • Send fliers to the day-to-day staff, not just the guy with the purchasing power. They're the ones who will be positively affected the most if the inmates in their unit have a productive and safe way to use their time, work off steam, and invest in themselves in a way that will contribute to a positive mindset.
  • When you mail directly to the purchasing agent, adjust your sales pitch to stress the fact that implementing this will help the staff and make their lives easier. This will reduce turnover, reduce expenses on mental health counseling, and increase productivity and engagement at work. Also stress why your product is safe and how you can ensure that the items won't be used to hurt people. (This seems impossible to me. How would you create workout equipment that someone can't use to harm others? Stress the details of how your products achieve the maximum safety.)
  • Look for the prison management equivalent of trade shows and training conferences where all these people get together. A cursory google search brought me to this page on Strategic Inmate Management and this list of forums for the corrections community. Show up where they are. Hang out where they hang out. Listen to them talk. Hear what they think their needs are when it comes to inmate fitness programs. Reflect their language back to them when you promote your stuff.
One more thing...I'm not sure what you mean by this:



What do you mean by "slow"?

The internet says that there are 1,719 state prisons and 102 federal prisons in the United States.

That's 1821 facilities total.

A first-class stamp is $0.55. Let's say that you can print the flier for $0.45, bringing your total cost per facility to $1.00.

You're out $1,821.00.

So for less than $2000, you can show up on the desk of every purchasing agent in every prison in the US by next week.

Just to give you some perspective, running facebook ads for a single chiropractic practice can swallow up that amount of money in one week - just to bring ONE client in the door.

So I'm not sure why it feels slow.

Now, maybe the sales cycle is slow. That's got to be slow, with the pace that things move with bureaucratic red tape. But that's going to be the case no matter what advertising channel you use to get in front of your customers.

Now, let's say that someone needs to see 6-10 repetitions of your message in order to know, like and trust you enough to place an order.

You could spend $12,000-$20,000 on mailers and trust that the return on investment will be there.

But you could very possibly stretch your money a lot farther if you spend your $2,000 to mail 10 times to the first 200 prisons only. Start with a small, localized set of prisons. Get them on board and start to see results. Let positive outcomes + word of mouth start to take over and work in your favor as you expand to the rest of the country.
Bekit,

Just wanted to say thank you for all of the fantastic advice. I've already started to implement some of these ideas. It's funny that you mentioned that you don't have much experience in the field. It actually seems like you've been doing this for awhile!!

Of the items you mentioned I have:
-Signed up for a trade show
-Sent specific mailers to purchasers
-Sent info to the day-to-day staff

Also, your comments on advertising costs put things into perspective for me. Doing a direct mailer is really a low cost mechanism for a potentially large ROI.

Thanks again! I'll be referring to this thread for inspiration as I move along!
 

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